LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The Golden Knights made Matyas Sapovaliv, a tall, slender center from the Czech Republic, their first pick in the NHL draft on Friday.
The Knights did not have a first-round pick; they traded it to Buffalo in the deal that brought them Jack Eichel, a highly touted offensive center. Sapovaliv, a native of Kladno, Czech Republic, was selected with the 16th pick of the second round, No. 48 overall.
Asked about his strengths, Sapovaliv, a left-handed shot, cited his hockey sense. “I can play every role,” he said at a news conference in Montreal, site of the draft, shortly after he was selected. “I think I’m good on the offensive side and defensive side, too. My penalty kill, power plays.”
Most scouting/evaluation services would agree. Scouts seem to like Sapovaliv’s versatility, saying coaches are confident using him in multiple situations. He also is comfortable playing the wing, according to several draft analysts.
Scouting service eliteprospects.com has Sapovaliv, 6 foot 3, 180 pounds, as the 78th rated prospect overall. NHL Central Scouting ranks him No. 23 among North American skaters. He played this past season — his only competitive year in North America — in the Ontario Hockey League for the Saginaw Spirit where he scored 18 goals and 52 points in 68 games.
The Knights took six players in the draft, including three centers, in an apparent move to add depth to the middle. The two other centers selected were Jordan Gustafson and Patrick Guay, both lefty shots.
Gustafson, 5-10, 178 pounds, was picked from the Western Hockey League’s Seattle Thunderbirds. He went in the third round.
Bob Lowes, Knights assistant director of player personnel.
To get Gustafson at No. 79 overall, the Knights moved up by trading a third-round pick (No. 95) and a fifth-round pick (No. 135) to Toronto.
Bob Lowes, assistant director of player personnel, said the Knights liked everything about Gustafson, prompting the deal with Toronto. Lowes said Gustafson is a strong two-way player with a “big engine,” hockey lingo for a skating style that’s both fast and powerful.
With their fifth-round pick, the Knights took Guay, 5-9, 179 pounds, from the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He went No. 145 overall.
Playing in what traditionally is a league known for offense, Guay had 55 goals and 104 points this past season for Charlottetown.
The team’s fourth-round selection was goaltender Cameron Whitehead of the United States Hockey League’s Lincoln Stars. Whitehead, 6-3, 165 pounds, was the 128th overall pick. To get in position to draft him, the Knights traded a 2023 draft pick to Montreal.
Right wing Ben Hemmerling, 5-10, 159 pounds, of the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips, was picked by the Knights in the sixth round, No. 177 overall. A right-handed shot, Hemmerling is rated No. 86 by NHL Central Scouting among North American skaters.
The Knights’ final pick was defenseman Abram Wiebe, 6-3, 195 pounds, in the seventh round, No. 209 overall. He played three seasons for the Chilliwack Chiefs of the British Columbia Hockey League.